Book Review – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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In one of his interviews about his autobiography, Trevor Noah shared that he started out writing the book, thinking he was the hero but by the end of it he realized that the real hero was his mother.

And indeed she is the hero of Born a Crime.

The autobiography brings out the side of The Daily Show host’s life that has not been highlighted before. Even for those of us who have been following him from his full-time standup comedy days.

Trevor shares details about his life in his home country, South Africa – What was it like growing up under apartheid. The title of the book, gives his position, as under the regime, Trevor’s existence was illegal because he was the offspring of a union between an African women and a man of Swiss-German ethnicity. His position in the whole micro and macro matrix as a colored kid. No matter which aspect of his life is being narrated, his mother comes out on top and is a fine example of what good grooming can do for a kid. An outlier from day one, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah lived her life on her own terms and owned every decision head on. One of my favorite quotes related to her from the book, which gives a clear insight into the women’s thought process.

My mom would always say, “My job is to feed your body, feed your spirit and feed your mind.”

There were times when the family faced extreme poverty, to the point that their food comprised of the lowest denominator of the nutrition cycle. Even during these times their spirit never wavered and there was no compromise on feeding the mind.

Poverty was not the only difficulty that the mother-son duo faced. Apartheid had deepened the lines of difference between the various tribes of South Africa. In an environment of heightened ‘otherization’, the duo had to navigate these lines given that they represented the rebellious idea of not fitting in any one silo. To an outsider this might not sound something that merits compared to extreme poverty, but given the society that is so attached to this sense of identity, for anyone who doesn’t fit, life isn’t easy.

Trevor had his fair share of traumatic experiences, however, he had developed a defense mechanism to deal with it, which ensured that it doesn’t hamper his progress. In his own words;

“I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don’t hold on to the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new.”

Born a crime, is by no means a depressing read, despite depicting some of life’s harshest realities. The biography is filled with Trevor’s wit and leaves you laughing while driving home the seriousness or irony of the situation. Reflecting Trevor’s prowess, it is a combination of being a terrifying and hilarious read simultaneously. There is a reason that his biography made it to Bill Gates top reads of 2017 list.

Being a constant outsider, Trevor developed the art of making the best out of the situation by staying at the outskirts, using humor and language to warrant his stay and never overstaying his welcome. What started out at a kid’s way of adopting to his circumstances, turned into life lessons, developing a sense of empathy that the humanity in today’s day and age can use opting for as a norm!

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

If there is just one thing that you take away from this read, it should be that an individual is capable of breaking away from the constraints put on one’s imagination.

Trevor has reinforced that he didn’t write this book to get sympathy and this is genuinely reflected in his writing style. For someone who enjoys reading biographies, this one was hard to put down. There are no drags and you are hooked from page one. I am going to take the liberty and suggest this to even those who are not keen on biographies, you won’t regret it – promise!


By Fatima Arif

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